On Saturday 10 August, the Due North Rum Club graciously invited me to the Prince Alfred’s Guards Headquarters in Central to celebrate their Christmas Lunch, which was also held to mourn the passing of the Black Tot.
Black Tot Day (31 July 1970) is the name given to the last day on which the Royal Navy issued sailors with a daily rum ration (the daily tot). The final rum ration was poured as usual at 6 bells in the forenoon watch (11am) after the pipe of ‘up spirits’. Some sailors wore black armbands, tots were ‘buried at sea’ and in one navy training camp there was a mock funeral procession complete with black coffin and accompanying drummers and piper. As can be expected the move was not popular with the ratings despite an extra can of beer being added to the daily rations in compensation.
Saturday’s mourning of the passing of the tot took place in the form of a formal dinner in convivial company. Attended by 13 members of the Due North Rum Club in Keith Adams, Frank Atkinson, Grant Britton, Greg Britton, Garth Daniels, Donald Dye, Roy Farr, Volker Mueller, Warwick Owen, John Scott, Gerald Smith, Ray Thompson, Pierre van Deventer with guests Neville Ross and yours truly the ‘mourners’ gathered in the NCO’s mess of the PAG from 12:00 noon.
Those who have been to formal dinners in the army will well remember the pomp and ceremony attached thereto. My memories are a bit hazy as some of them used to go on for four hours with different wines for each course, numerous toasts to country, regiment and others, passing of the port and no-one allowed to leave the table until the close of proceedings – those with weak bladders suffered somewhat.
The Due North Rum Club have claimed the Algoa Bay Yacht Club as their home base and meet every Saturday alternating between the ABYC and selected ‘away’ venues. Membership is open to those who can stay the pace and have an abiding interest in the sea. It helps if you were in the Navy or military.
In honour of ‘passing away’ of the black tot all present at PAG wore black armbands and a precious bottle of Pussers rum was opened for the first tot of the day to the ‘Prince Alfreds Guards’ – the first tot is always in honour of the venue hosting this band of merry men (no women members yet!). And then the merriment and food began with toasts every half hour. Appreciate this – the rum is poured neat and straight out of the freezer into double tot glasses – for each toast those present must take the glass in their left hands and down the fiery liquid in one swig. Unlike myself who kept the Pussers in my mouth for a while and savoured the magnificent taste.
By way of explanation – Pussers rum is the preferred rum of naval types the world over and, as we are not able to buy it commercially in South Africa, the Due North Rum club – after years of scientific tasting experiments – has concluded that Jack Tarr is the closest to Pussers and, as a result, only drinks Jack Tarr during ‘normal’ meetings.
All in all we had 5 toasts, each half an hour, during lunch: ‘Our Land’, ‘Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet’, Absent friends’ and ‘To us and none like us’. I could tell that the rum was doing its nasty work when one of my companions responded; “We will remember them” to the ‘Sweethearts and Wives’ toast.
All I can say is; “Thank goodness I asked the Longhair to play taxi as we left the PAG replete with bonhomie and a warm feeling in the belly after 4:00 pm.”
I must confess that Saturday’s visit to PAG was my first ever and I feel quite sad for that. Anyone with an abiding interest in historical buildings and even the military will be blown away by the building and historical artifacts contained within. RSM John Scott tells me that the building is open to the public and, should staff be available at the time of your visit, they will be happy to take you on a guided tour. The PAG Museum houses one of the best preserved brass cannons I have ever seen. Taken from the Sacramento wreck, the cannon was found still glinting undersea purely as a result of being nestled between two other iron cannons that acted as sacrificial anodes.